One of the great aspects of birding the Dunes is the constant supply of good birds. When most folks have thoughts of hanging up their binoculars until spring, rare and unique birds provide lakefront birders a chance to keep up the birding excitement, not just through December, but through the entire wintertime.
One great way to stay active is through the National Audubon Society and their annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC). This year is the Society’s 114th annual event. Across 17 countries, but mostly Canada and the US, over 2,300 counts will occur between December 14 and January 5. The Indiana Dunes count was first held in 1916! After some hiatus, it was brought back in 1972 and has been held consecutively for the last 41 years straight.
In the past 41 years of counting, over 150 species has been recorded during this special day in December. Some of the great birds recorded include King Eider, California Gull, Golden Eagle, and Baltimore Oriole. The December 14, 2013 count would produce another new count species and some other great highlights.
It’s too early to give the entire list, as counts from teams are still coming in. It is safe to say over 70 species were logged on this year’s count. Among the highlights includes the ever recurring Snowy Owl invasion. Snowy Owls have been recorded on four different Indiana Dunes Christmas Bird Counts. This year’s two birds ties the two seen on the 12/20/1986 CBC count. The two birds seen yesterday were at Michigan City Harbor (outer breakwall) and the Reynold’s Creek GHA (1500N/600E).
Another highlight is a first state Christmas Count record. While searching for a hard to find bird this far north in Indiana, the Northern Mockingbird, Jeff McCoy located a first state winter record of a Bobolink. This prairie and grassland bird travels 12,000 miles each year to it’s wintering grounds in central and southern South America. A bird not to be found in the deep snow of Indiana in December. The Bobolink makes species 153 for the Dunes CBC!
Other good birds would include Long-tailed Ducks, all three scoter species, multiple Thayer’s Gulls, Red-throated Loon, Rough-legged Hawks, lots of Pileated Woodpeckers, Snow Buntings, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. The highlights weren’t just birds though. Two mammalian highlights were noted by two teams thus far reporting in. The first was an early morning Coyote seen at Dunes State Park. She ran out of the woods, stopped at the growing shelf ice.. relieved herself… then ran back into the woods. The second interesting report was of a river otter seen at the Trail Creek mouth to Lake Michigan. The latter may be a first site record.
No matter the cold, there is still birding excitement out there right now!